Driving in Los Angeles is pretty rough. I do as little of it as possible. We in LA know of road rage. I think it was invented here. There’s a culture of “honkin’ and hatin’”, as my wife puts it.
Once in a while I do have to drive, and I try to be nice as a driver. See, I had a history of road rage. After delving into meditation, I could see subconscious shifts in how I dealt with problems that arose. When I first turned onto the street, for instance, I was either reactive and adrenaline-driven, or calm and focused.
Usually it came out with the first driver that I encountered. Even if nothing big happened, I could feel it. I might be tailing too close. Or I get strung up if someone cuts me off. Or I notice that someone is going too fast, or too slow.
If I sense myself in this reactive mode, I try to cut through it to a calm place. Setting the directions on my phone before I start and getting an ETA makes a difference. If I accept the time that I’ll arrive at my destination, I won’t feel compelled to try to get there faster and faster.
Breathing and paying attention to breaths keeps me in the present. It keeps me centered, away from the lure of adrenaline junkies and angry swervers that zoom past.
Decisions define us. We can decide to be driven by anger and react to another driver’s violence, or we can decide to come from loving kindness. When someone cuts me off, it’s tempting to follow and do the same back to them. There’s a rush, and a sense of winning a competition, and being badder than that person.
But when I decide to remain centered the aggravation around me becomes noise.
If I go further and extend good to other drivers, I get surprisingly positive feelings from it. I already know my ETA. And there’s a chance for me to let this person turn onto the road in front of me while the opposing traffic is clear. Let’s do it. I like to wave to let them know they’re free to go.
When pedestrians are waiting to cross the road, why not slow down and come to a stop for them? Remaining still until they are completely across, on the opposite sidewalk, ensures that cars coming from the other direction see me stopped and warns them of the pedestrians. Stopping well before the crosswalk lines, and slowing down gradually, creates more safety for them.
I get a sense of fulfillment by doing this. It’s an intitiative to make the world safe. Make the world calm. Make the world kind. Make it a place of love. After all, we are the individual units of the world. Our actions shape its dynamics.
I find that when I try as hard at being good to people on the road as I have tried at excelling in the workplace, or creating a painting, or making dinner, the possibilities are endless.
The more intentional I am, the better the outcome. Before, I would let someone pass and pretend I didn’t care that I was helping. I would avoid eye contact, be very subtle and wait for the person to go past, and not acknowledge the wave of thanks.
I felt like it wasn’t right to be the “good guy”. I thought other people would see me and think I was trying to get brownie points. That I was trying to look good. Maybe I wasn’t coming from the right place. Doing those things randomly and half-heartedly. Better that I just drive on than reluctantly let someone through.
It became a good thing when I started to act from a state of calm. I felt that I should be showing good, kindness, love, and care, as long as it was sincere. I should be putting that out into the world. The alternative is indifference, coldness, revenge, danger.
When we have peace at heart, we’ve got to act on it. Make it real. If it’s there in the imagination, the only thing stopping it from manifesting is our fear. Fear of rejection. What if the other person doesn’t accept my kindness? Fear of embarrassment. What if I get ridiculed by other drivers behind me? Fear of failure. What if it takes too long for them to cross the street, and everyone behind me hates me for it?
Take the leap and love.
Make a full, intentional stop for the person wanting to cross the street. Gesture at the person waiting to turn left across traffic, letting them know you will wait for them. As long as we’re not causing more danger, we are completely free to be kind.
You may feel corny at first. You may get some exasperated looks from the driver behind you. Or the passenger next to you. But it’s about the world you just created for the person there, who can now move in relative safety and ease. And the world you just created for yourself.